Arthouse cinema: What happened to art in cinema in the last 40 years?

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What happened to arthouse cinema?

The history of cinema, in particular that of arthouse cinema, is a complex history like that of the other Arts and more generally like the history of humanity. It has been subject to many pitfalls, misleading ways of thinking, as well as being full of creativity and genius. Art cinema is often closely related to independent cinema and rarely finds space in large industrial productions, often forced to please the public with a more standardized language to maximize profits and reduce the risk of production.

Mayakovsky already in the 1920s had hit a fundamental point not only of cinema, but of human society as a whole. 

For you, cinema is entertainment.

For me it is almost a

conception of the world.

Cinema is the bearer of movement.

Cinema modernizes literature.

Cinema demolishes aesthetics.

Cinema is audacity.

Cinema is an athlete.

Cinema is the diffusion of ideas.

But the cinema is sick. Capitalism threw a handful of gold in his eyes. Skilled entrepreneurs take him for a walk through the streets, holding him by the hand. They collect money, moving people with petty tearful subjects.

This must end.

Communism must take cinema out of the hands of speculators.

Futurism must evaporate dead waters: stagnation and moralism.

Without this we will have either the American-imported tip-tap, or the only “teary eyes” of the various Mogiuchin.

The first of these two possibilities has bored us.

The second even more.

If you try to replace cinema with life in this poem by Mayakovsky you will get an even more powerful effect, which further broadens his critique. In fact there is not a big difference between cinema and life, cinema is the mirror of life

These words of Mayakovsky acquire even more meaning considering his history, and the regime in which he lived. Mayakovsky, however, hits a point that goes even further beyond the limited freedom of totalitarian regimes. It is about the manipulation of art and the media for political, ideological and commercial purposes, through which, in apparently democratic societies, it is possible to shape people’s way of thinking in an occult way. 

The decline of true arthouse cinema

The great collapse of arthouse cinema began more or less at the end of the seventies with the overwhelming assertion of television. Television has been the medium capable of influencing the masses around the world for 50 years. 

Television began its broadcasts taking inspiration from cinema and maintaining a high quality audiovisual language for more than twenty years. With the arrival of commercial television, the language of images gradually deteriorated until it became a crazy schizophrenic supermarket. 

Funny and hilarious Federico Fellini’s point of view in the 80s when he shoots films as an interview with Ginger and Fred where television is a kind of mellstrom that advances by incorporating everything, in a kind of great phenomenon of collective hysteria. 

Fellini, in his masterpiece book Making a film, recounts that when he turned on the television he had the impression of connecting live with a mental hospital: the sadism of the telequiz presenters in torturing the sweat-dripping competitors, processions of semi-naked girls dressed like chickens, insane and cynical idiocy of commercials. 

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Fellini’s gaze was the pure gaze of a brilliant man, and he was able to grasp this madness that most people missed. The others invented excuses, society is changing and progress must be accepted. But intellectuals of the caliber of Fellini and Pier Paolo Pasolini did not believe these lies: they clearly saw the emergence of a kind of madhouse on a global level. 

Today talking about this after 50 years of live broadcasts in our homes is simply absurd: madness has become the world we live in. But it would be enough to read Fellini’s book and make a film to completely overturn our vision. 

Arthouse films and social changes

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But is it simply the evolution of society and the tastes of the public or is it something deliberate? In my opinion it is something deliberate: it is a systematic planning for the destruction of art cinema, almost completely replaced by products that can be useful for achieving certain purposes. Commercial purposes, of course, but above all spiritual purposes, of interior impoverishment of the masses. 

Commercial purposes? Sure, but that’s not the main thing. The real interest lies in profoundly influencing the way people think and feel. Cinema has lost its dominance in the media world, but the big screen is still pivotal in creating ways and lifestyles around the world. To influence the spirit of the human being

Through the means of propaganda it simply means imposing mediocre and untalented characters and building an artistic phenomenon upon it, planning any useful strategy. That’s what’s coming from the 1980s onwards. It is a phenomenon that today covers at least 90% of film productions. 

They are all the projects and characters created at the table, without a real inner value, but touted as great artistic phenomena destined to change the consumption of films, The consumption of art. They are puppets, just as parades of carnival floats are the places dedicated to their promotion. 

Honestly, it seems to me that it is not difficult to perceive this, because after all it is a widespread feeling among many people. But it is something that remains buried in the unconscious, that one cannot admit even to oneself. 

Arthouse cinema as entertainment 

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The concept of entertainment, created perfectly in the United States of America and then spread to the rest of the world, has been progressively affirming itself. The directors of the 1920s who worked alongside the painters of the avant-garde movements would not have understood at all. 

The Lumière and Méliès brothers, who had shown the films at village fairs, could have understood the concept of entertainment. But they would have wondered: isn’t cinema now evolving towards something higher? 

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The golden age of arthouse cinema

The 1920s were the most radical period in thinking about cinema as an art, with the support of the world of painting and with the revolutionary theories of Soviet editing. A mix of figurative art and musical rhythm that has given the cinema explosive potential. But soon after, in the 1930s, the concept of entertainment established itself together with the birth of Hollywood. 

Another great period for cinema as an art was that of the 1960s. From the French New Wave to great authors around the world, films had a magical moment, in which thousands of works of art were created. 

Jean Luc Godard is perhaps today the last of the true innovators of cinematographic art. Jean-Luc Godard would never make a series for streaming channels like Scorsese, Sorrentino and many other arthouse film directors did. Jean Luc Godard is another of the giants of the history of cinema and art who witnesses from the height of his 90 years to a distortion of the incomprehensible cinematographic language, reduced to an unprecedented homologation.

Jean-luc-Godard

Jean-Luc Godard and hundreds of other film makers of that era used cinema to create new forms of art. In the 1920s, directors were inspired by Futurism, Expressionism and Impressionist painting to create their works. In fact, seeing a film from that era or seeing a Nouvelle Vague film is a bit like entering an art gallery. 

Why ghettoize arthouse cinema?

Then came entertainment. But why is this so powerful statement nowadays absolute of cinema as entertainment? I could put forward this hypothesis. Entertainment is about thrilling the audience, not transforming and elevating their view of the world. Maybe we need to make sure that people remain like children on a roller coaster? 

The viewer gets excited, frightened, has fun, produces adrenaline, comes out stunned and satisfied by the cinema, as if under the influence of a good drug, and it all ends there. The art film, on the other hand, can change your life and expand in you a new, more conscious vision of the world. But the discussion does not end there. There is a need to make the public believe that a certain type of audiovisual products are art, by celebrating and advertising them in every possible way. 

By accustoming the public to the amusement park carousel, it can be stunned and made more and more unaware. The visual art and the rhythm of the vision for the average cinema viewer does not matter: he is looking for adrenaline for an evening of strong emotions. But there is always a small niche of people who do not believe in certain nonsense and remain in search of the art film. How to deal with these stubborn ones? 

The fake arthouse cinema

Simple: we invent the fake arthouse cinema. We create a series of characters through famous awards and media advertising that fit into a certain design. Which design? Political, commercial? Also but above all a plan of spiritual zeroing. Through these famous and award-winning authors, passed off as great artists, almost no opening must arrive. The discourse must remain in the matter, in politics, in a certain ideological vision. In this way, a society is shaped with false myths and new fashions, according to what those in power deem appropriate. 

But isn’t there the democratic distribution of the internet and the great possibilities of accessing any content today? Yes there is, but the public is missing. The public does not have the capacity and the critical spirit to choose with their own head, beyond any advertising influence, any award, any celebration. 

Have you ever gone to a starred restaurant that appears in the prestigious gastronomic guide and eat crap? It actually happens very frequently. What is said about that place does not correspond to the perception of your taste buds. But I’m willing to bet 99 out of 100 people will ignore it while dining with friends. They won’t believe their taste buds. If everyone says it is, it probably is. 

Critical awareness of the perception of a work of art is practically the same thing. If everyone talks about that particular film, if everyone celebrates it, if he wins many awards, if the director is famous, even if he doesn’t convince me, it’s probably a great work of art. The critical spirit is an endangered matter. Since I don’t have it, I adapt to what the experts say, so I also make a good impression on my alternative friends. 

The experts of arthouse cinema

For the average viewer, there is simply no alternative: what we are talking about, what everyone is talking about, what the expert is talking about is Cinema with a capital C. The alternatives therefore exist, but the average viewer is deaf and blind: they respond only to the stimuli that come from advertising and media noise. With such an audience it’s easy to drive the carousel – just press the button to start it and wait. Everything happens automatically. 

Immediately you find a multitude of people ready to say that times are changing that we must accept the evolution of things. Nonsense. These people have a poor understanding of what is going on around them. The truth is that if governments and the media had promoted true arthouse cinema over the decades we would now have a completely different, more aware society. A society made up of people that are more difficult to manipulate. Because this is precisely the function of art, and cinema, done in a certain way, is art. 

The destruction of art cinema, or rather its mystification into products that have nothing to do with art, was deliberate. All other arts were also demolished. Do you often hear dialogues between friends or at the tables of a bar about painting that has spanned the centuries? On the great literature. If you’re lucky you can hear a conversation about the latest talentless fashion cartoonist launched by the mainstream media: another, yet another mystification, of talent and art. 

Arthouse cinema can change lives

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There are paintings that alone could change people’s lives and lead them to a much broader understanding of the existence they live. But they are works totally ignored and deliberately hidden by the system. Do you know for example the paintings of Courbet, and his two fundamental works that have marked the development of history, such as L’origin du Monde, and Bonjour Monsieur Corbet? Probably not, yet due to their impact these works should be disseminated through schools and the media. 

But the problem is still the same. The great works of art are the means by which the awareness of the human being is raised, one of the fundamental functions of art. 

Now try to imagine some small changes in the evening programming of TV, on streaming platforms and in cinemas. A program that introduces young people and the general public to the great artists of the cinematographic art. 

At first, after decades of garbage, the average viewer would be stunned and bored. We would go to take refuge in the kitchen and browse the refrigerator, while a film by Antonioni is shown on the national channel. But already after a few days, when his schizophrenic brain activity subsides, he may devote himself to observing and trying to understand this strange language. 

After a few weeks, many will have understood it and will begin to appreciate it. After a few months or years, many will realize that this can change their life, and that they have been subjected to an avalanche of garbage for years. Let’s also assume, absurdly and out of pure madness, that there is someone who knows and loves these films and who presents them with his expertise, on prime-time TV instead of the telequiz and reality show. Or that there is a debate after the film in which the important issues dealt with are deepened. How long would it take to initiate a radical change in society. Not very much. 

Then imagine that these films are taught in school along with other great works of art that are ignored by the school curricula. Children much more receptive than adults would take even less time to change their perception of reality. Because reality is not something objective, what we perceive is us. We are the ones who create reality. Unknowing people who ignore this let the mainstream media create reality, leave the creative power of thought to those who dominate the system. And the system thinks about your existence for you. 

The arthouse cinema and the multiplex society

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But immediately you find many people who contest this type of discourse saying: But is cinema so important? Yes, it is important because cinema is the mirror of life, and different visions create different versions of the world. It is we who create the world we live in. If there are people who believe that everything is a huge supermarket, who have built neighborhoods and entire cities that are gigantic shopping centers, who want to transform humans into an animal that produces, consumes and cracks, this is their problem. And it also becomes a problem for us when we leave the house and instead of finding a civilization we find an endless desert of special offers. 

After all, who cares, it’s a pastime, it’s entertainment. After all, what is the importance of art, if not spending a few hours in a museum contemplating images? These statements correspond exactly to what they wanted to build in recent decades: a society without the ability to observe and contemplate, without awareness, poor in spirit. A company that loves to enjoy, ride the roller coaster of the Luna Park. Who believes only in what is touched by hand. 

Too bad that all he is allowed to touch with his hand is a piece of plastic, and that there is someone who thinks his life for him. But that societythat broadcasts arthouse films in prime time, and shows with an in-depth debate the origin of Courbet’s du Monde, where it is. It’s around the corner, in an invisible world. Achievable with a few necessary changes. 

Fabio Del Greco

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